Doctors have quieted down since leading a pair of rallies last year to pressure the B.C. government to fund construction of a new Penticton hospital tower.
“It’s quiet because it’s moving ahead,” said Dr. David Paisley, president of the Penticton Medical Staff Society.
“If it wasn’t moving ahead, you’d have heard from us.”
What’s moving ahead is the business case the B.C. government called for to support its expected two-thirds contribution to the planned $300-million project.
Paisley, whose society spearheaded the public campaign, expects it could take up to a year for the government to approve funding once it has the business case in hand, although he hopes it’s sooner. He said doctors haven’t set a date after which they would revive the public campaign.
However, the chief of staff at Penticton Regional Hospital suggested people may demand a deadline for funding approval earlier than a year out.
Dr. Brad Raison said the business case should be done by the end of May, and soon after sent for approval to Treasury Board before the summer break “when nothing gets done.”
“Being an amateur at politics, I suspect it should be approved very quickly with the amount of detail we’re putting in,” he said.
The emergency-room physician noted Treasury Board members meet at the call of the chair, so “I think that the community’s not going to accept… if there’s some delay because they are not meeting.”
Raison said he’s anxious to get past the planning stage and obtain a government cash commitment, but trusts the long development of a detailed business case, green-lighted by the premier 13 months ago, was a necessary hurdle.
“My estimate is that the people involved in it, both at (Interior Health) and at the ministry level, do want to get it done. You and I might say, ‘Well, just do it,’ but they say, ‘No, we’ve got these processes to do.’
“I have to take them at face value that what they’re telling me is true,” Raison said.
In the meantime, the B.C. government has funded hospital projects elsewhere, most recently committing in March to its share of a $30-million effort to finish the final two floors of the new tower at Vernon Jubilee Hospital.
Raison said the seeming spending disparity hasn’t gone unnoticed and has been a point of contention brought up with government officials.
Penticton MLA Dan Ashton said he’s made sure his government knows it’s now his city’s turn.
“I’m not asking for anything else at this point in time from my peers in the sense that (the tower) is a very large project for our area, and an incredibly important project, and it’s my No. 1 priority,” said Ashton.
“I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but the premier’s committed to it twice, the health minister’s committed to it, so my focus is on ensuring this hospital gets funded.”
Penticton Mayor Garry Litke, who worked with doctors beginning in early 2013 to help build public support, said he is content at the moment, but prepared to get vocal again.
“As long as I’m satisfied that progress is being made, I’ll be patient,” Litke said. “But if I see that, for example, some other community is getting funding and we’re not, I’ll be saying something about that.”